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Were the spots fun and funky? Or rude and racist?

The reaction to a Colgate-Palmolive campaign-and the marketer's reaction to the reaction-has Australia's public and ad community shaking their heads.

The questionable spots for Colgate-Palmolive's UV brand depict a group of black men joking about whites' need for suntan lotion. In one, a man grins, "When we're out in the sun, we're all at the mercy of Mother Nature. But think about it. To get protection the black man has naturally"-that is, more melanin-"the white man needs a sunscreen like UV. So Mother Nature must be black," he concludes, as his friends laugh heartily.

Reaction in Australia, Colgate-Palmolive said, was "positive....from people who said they thought the ads were funny. Until the complaints became known, the response had been pretty even-now it's strongly pro the ads." Young & Rubicam, Sydney, handling the campaign, reports similar response. But the marketer's New York office pulled the ads after receiving five complaints, some reportedly from African-Americans living in Australia.

So what's a little skin-color chuckle between races? Maybe some people don't know how to take a joke.

The reactions to these ads illuminate a dilemma for the ad community: As its work goes global, studies and experts insist on keeping the message local.

And apparently that's what this campaign did-at least in Australia. Would the ad work in the U.S.? No. But because it's inappropriate for America, is it inappropriate for another market, another culture?

Colgate-Palmolive pulled the ads voluntarily, and Australia's self-regulatory Advertising Standards Council is expected to decide this month whether to uphold the complaints. The council's executive director, Colin Harcourt, said, "The council can hardly be seen as a damper on creativity. We are not social engineers. We strive to reflect prevailing community standards."

And isn't that what makes local advertising successful?

Last summer, Advertising Age issued a challenge to members of the worldwide advertising community.

We asked them to create public service print ads to promote 17 days of uninterrupted world peace during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

The response was heartening. We received more than 40 entries from five countries. Contestants included a range of creative people from students toprofessionals in small shops and international agencies such as Bozell Worldwide. In our March 11 issue, we will announce the winners.

The ad competition was spurred by the news that the International Olympic Committee had initiated talks with the United Nations about calling for a global truce during the Games. Immediately, we were inundated with calls, faxes and e-mails from people who wanted more information about this unique competition. It obviously struck a chord, generating interest from the IOC and offers to help publicize the results. The noble notion caught the imagination of many.

In an international event that will be dominated by big-money endorsements and high-power advertising, this outpouring is a reminder of the human element of the Games.

We salute those who entered the contest and everyone else who dares to dream, and dares to act, to promote peace.

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